×

UPDATE 1-Shares in Prince Alwaleed's firm soar, but banks remain cautious

(Adds quote from bankers, background)

DUBAI, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's freedom has sent shares of his flagship company soaring, but banks will remain cautious about dealing with his company until they have more clarity about the circumstances of his release from a corruption probe.

Shares in Saudi Arabian investment firm Kingdom Holding rose sharply in early trade on Monday to above their level when owner Alwaleed was detained in the country's corruption probe in early November.

The stock climbed 5.6 percent to 10.60 riyals, after jumping 10 percent on Sunday. They were at 10.28 riyals before Prince Alwaleed was detained.

The prince was released from detention at the weekend and Saudi officials said he would keep ownership of the company.

Prince Alwaleed - whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17 billion - is the face of Saudi business for foreign investors. Before his detention, he appeared frequently on international news channels and was featured in newspaper articles about his investments and lifestyle.

Bankers said it was inevitable that banks would be extremely cautious about dealing with Kingdom. They need to clearly understand about the future of the company's ownership after Alwaleeds release.

"Some banks will try to limit the relationship, to avoid reputational damage," said a banker in Saudi Arabia, who asked not to be named.

But he said banks need to know whether any official settlement took place or not before taking any decision.

Officials at Kingdom were not available to comment.

A corruption settlement or tax amnesty by clients could trigger anti-money laundering checks at banks, which can potentially affect client relationships. Alwaleed's detention had begun to affect his company's relationship with some banks, which became cautious in lending to the group because of worries about potential repercussions.

Kingdom had approached banks to borrow money to fund new investments, but the financing plan was held up, Reuters had reported in November citing sources.

Kingdom has two outstanding term loans totaling $975 million and maturing over the next two years, according to Thomson Reuters data. At the end of the third quarter last year, the company had a debt to equity ratio of only 0.45.

A senior Saudi official said on Saturday billionaire Alwaleed was released after a settlement he had concluded with authorities was approved by the attorney general.

"The release of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and a number of other high-profile individuals may ease some concerns, but we still dont have any details on what sort of agreement they have reached with the authorities," Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at Capital Economics in London.

"It just adds to the murkiness surrounding the whole process."

In a development unrelated to Alwaleed's detention, Kingdom's chief financial officer Mohamed Fahmy is leaving the firm, Reuters reported earlier this month, citing sources familiar with the matter. He was believed to be a close aide of the Saudi billionaire. (additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Andrew Torchial; Writing by Saeed Azhar, Editing by William Maclean)